6 Staggering football upsets that rocked the FA Cup

BY Nick Quantrill

5th Jan 2023 Sport

6 Staggering football upsets that rocked the FA Cup

The FA Cup has seen countless football upsets over the years, with many an underdog rising up to steal a Division One crown. Here are some of our favourites

With the winter World Cup behind us, attention naturally turns to a more traditional date in the football calendar. As the Premier League stars enter the FA Cup at the third round stage, it’s a chance to enjoy David v Goliath clashes and maybe witness an upset.

Here are six of the biggest shocks from the FA Cup that we love to look back on.

Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United (1972)

Having already held their glamorous Division One opponents to a 2-2 draw at St James’ Park—a big enough shock in itself—no one gave Hereford United's team from the Southern Football League a prayer of going one step further.

Especially not when Newcastle United finally broke the home side’s resistance with a headed goal in the last ten minutes from Malcolm Macdonald.

"A now iconic thunderbolt initiated a joyous pitch invasion from the young fans in the crowd"

No football fan would have expected the part-timers to rally, but that’s exactly what happened.

Substitute, Ricky George, would net the winner in extra-time, but the tie will always be remembered for Ronnie Radford’s equaliser, a now iconic thunderbolt that initiated a joyous pitch invasion from the young fans in the crowd.

York City 1-0 Arsenal (1985)

Not only did First Division giants Arsenal face an awkward challenge when travelling to Division Three opponents, York City, but they also had to deal with a snow-bound pitch.

On the tricky surface, the first half was nip and tuck, neither side able to break through. With the tie drifting towards a goalless draw and a well-deserved payday at Highbury in the replay, York City forced a mistake.

Up stepped Keith Houchen from the penalty spot to send John Lukic the wrong way and settle the game.

Houchen, of course, would go on to play his part in another famous cup upset, this time with his memorable diving header at Wembley in the 1987 final, helping Coventry City to overcome Tottenham Hotspur.

Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City (1989)

The beauty of the FA Cup is that it doesn’t respect reputations, or even its heroes.

Keith Houchen and his teammates at First Division Coventry City were firm favourites to see off Sutton United of the Vauxhall Conference. But shortly before the interval, the non-league team got their noses in front with captain, Tony Rains, heading in a corner.

"The beauty of the FA Cup is that it doesn’t respect reputations, or even its heroes"

Conceding an equaliser early in the second half, Sutton United may have had one eye on a lucrative replay. However young bricklayer, Matthew Hanlan, had different ideas.

Sweeping in a corner kick to send the majority of the sell-out crowd wild, the part-timers held on to secure one of the competition’s greatest victories.

Wrexham AFC 2-1 Arsenal (1992)

If Arsenal learnt any lessons from their humbling at York City, they weren’t on display seven years later when they headed to North Wales to face Division Four opponents.

It did seem to be business as usual at first, with a goal to the good at the interval courtesy of Alan Smith. But the tide turned in the final ten minutes of the game.

Steve Watkin would go on to bag the winner, but like Ronnie Radford’s goal for Hereford United, the game would be remembered for the equalising goal.

Awarded a free kick on the edge of the area, Mickey Thomas, the veteran Wales international and former Manchester United and Chelsea star, stepped forward to lash it past David Seaman and send the London club home empty-handed once again.

Leicester City 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers (2001) 

A win for any team in the bottom division of the professional game at a top-flight club will always be savoured, but even by the cup’s standards, Wycombe Wanderers did it in an unusual manner.

With no fit strikers available to manager Lawrie Sanchez, the man who’d scored the winner for Wimbledon against Liverpool in the 1988 final, an online appeal threw up an unusual journeyman.

"A win for any team in the bottom division of the professional game at a top-flight club will always be savoured"

Born in Belfast, Roy Essandoh’s career had him travelling to Scotland and Scandinavia before answering the call. Only one player was ever going to score the last-minute winner for the underdogs.

Sadly for Essandoh, the goal wasn’t enough to secure him a longer deal, and he returned to his nomadic career playing in the non-league game.

Chelsea 2-4 Bradford City (2015)

As the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the game grows ever wider, you’d be forgiven for thinking the potential for cup shocks to occur would diminish.

But it was a lesson that an unusually shell-shocked Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's manager, would learn the hard way, despite his team racing into a two-goal lead.

After third-tier Bradford City regained their composure, two goals in the last ten minutes sealed a memorable victory at Stamford Bridge in front of 6,000 travelling fans.

An upset for the purists to enjoy, it shows there’s plenty of life left still in the FA Cup.

Banner image copyright: @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs) London, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Bradford City's surprise 2015 win against Chelsea

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